The Pap test (also referred to as the Pap smear, cervical smear, or sometimes simply, smear test) is a type of screening test named after Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou. It is a test intended to detect changes in the cells of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). Such changes can be indicative of an infection, abnormality in the cells of the cervix, or cervical cancer.
A Pap test is a test administered in person by a doctor; no drug testing is required. It can be done in a simple, painless and quick manner. The patient lies on an exam table, while the doctor inserts a speculum into her vagina, opening it in order to examine the cervix.
The doctor then uses an endocervical brush to remove cells from in and around the cervix. The cells are then placed on a glass slide and sent to a laboratory for further examination, with results usually taking around three weeks.
Taking a Pap rest regularly is something that all women should do. Between the ages of 21 and 65 in particular, women should have a Pap test every 3 to 5 years. In the vast majority of cases, no abnormality is found.
Even when abnormalities are found, after further tests are administered (often including a repeat of the Pap test), such abnormalities are usually not cancer-related. If cervical cancer is detected, however, the chance of cure is very high indeed, as long as it is found in its early stages.
As far as effectiveness goes, the Pap test is an extremely accurate indicator of cervical problems. It is also responsible for huge drops in deaths from cervical cancer. Studies have shown that in populations where women regularly undergo the Pap test, deaths caused by cervical carcinoma have been reduced by as much as 99%.
Ultimately, the Pap test is a potentially life-saving tool and, as it’s such an easy and painless process, no woman should fail to have regular screenings.